COVID-19 vaccine arrives at Milwaukee VA - Milwaukee VA Medical Center
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Milwaukee VA Medical Center


COVID-19 vaccine arrives at Milwaukee VA

A Milwaukee VA pharmacist takes the first does of the vaccine to the freezer.

Luke Palmer, a Milwaukee VA pharmacist takes the first does of the vaccine to the freezer.

By David Walter
Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Editor's note: Please don't call the hospital at this time about specifically receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. We are unable to provide further information as this is a rapidly evolving event. We ask you continue to monitor for updates as we have more information.

Christmas came to the Milwaukee VA Medical Center just before 10 a.m. Tuesday.

The hospital’s first allocation of the COVID-19 vaccine arrived in a heavy, white box, which was wheeled into the Pharmacy as Pharmacy Chief Dr. Kim Bell and Medical Center Director Dr. Daniel Zomchek looked on.

“This is symbolic,” Zomchek said. “This marks the beginning of the end of the pandemic.”

Procurement Pharmacist Luke Palmer, wearing heavy gloves, extracted three smaller boxes containing the 2,925 doses of the vaccine as the fog from dry ice billowed from the opening.

He quickly transferred them into the pharmacy’s new ultra-cold freezer, which can keep the Pfizer product at the needed minus 70 degrees temperature. The VA will initially vaccinate a handful of employees Wednesday, and begin more vaccinations later this week.

vaccine arrives
Procurement pharmacist Luke Palmer places the COVID-19 vaccine into the pharmacy's ultra-cold freezer. At left is Pharmacy Chief Dr. Kim Bell.

The hospital will follow Centers for Disease Control guidelines in administering the vaccine, Bell said, starting with essential health care workers first, followed closely by vulnerable Veterans and other essential hospital workers who are most in danger of being exposed to the virus.

“I know we’re going to get to all the employees who want the vaccine, eventually,” Bell said. “Not everybody can get their vaccine next week.”


Pharmacists Luke Palmer and Kim Bell unpack the COVID-19 vaccine while Dan Zomchek, medical center director, looks on.

Pharmacists Luke Palmer and Kim Bell unpack the COVID-19 vaccine while Dan Zomchek, medical center director, looks on.

Veterans in long-term care facilities will be the first patient group to be vaccinated. As vaccine supplies increase, additional Veterans will receive vaccinations based on factors such as age, existing health problems and other considerations that increase the risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19.

“I’m going to be last,” Zomchek said. “I am definitely getting the vaccine, but I want everybody else to be safe first.”

VA will report directly to the CDC data on all vaccine doses administered by VA. The department will also provide general, public updates on the number of people who receive the vaccination at these sites, similar to how VA posts COVID-19 testing figures.

Milwaukee was one of 37 VA medical centers across the country chosen to receive the vaccine first, based on their ability to vaccinate large numbers of people and store the vaccines at extremely cold temperatures.

“I think it’s exciting we were among the first VA sites to receive the vaccine,” Bell said. “We have the infrastructure and support in place to safely administer it and start moving toward that end of COVID.”

vaccine arrives thumbs up
Giving the thumbs up after the COVID-19 vaccine was secured in the pharmacy's freezer are, from left, Pharmacy Chief Dr. Kim Bell, pharmacist Luke Palmer and Medical Center Director Dr. Daniel Zomchek.

“VA is well prepared and positioned to begin COVID-19 vaccinations,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie in a news release. “Our ultimate goal is to offer it to all Veterans and employees who want to be vaccinated.”

COVID-19 vaccine implementation will include an initial limited-supply phase followed by a general implementation phase, when large supplies of the vaccine will be available.

As increased vaccine supply becomes available, VA plans to distribute these vaccines at additional facilities to offer the vaccine to more Veterans and employees.

Veterans seeking additional information should visit the VA COVID-19 vaccine webpage, contact their care team or visit their facility website.


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